Category Archives: 05 – Amongst the Stalwarts

My adulthood in the service. Learning to be a leader

Memorable Moments – 1: In 1963 With the Battle Axe

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On our journey from Childhood to OLd Age, we constantly interact with people. Some of them we meet and interact with over long periods time, our dear ones, our friends and also those who are not so friendly. Yet, there are others whom we meet only once or twice but cannot ever forget them. I have already penned one such story about a person named Pistumlal. I however have a clutch of stories about similar persons I cannot ever forget even though I do not know or remember their names! I will attempt to narrate one such incident today.

It was a cloudy day late in 1963. I was about to finish my tenure of duty with the Battle Axe as its adjutant. I had been posted to the Panthers who were, like the Battle Axe, located at Ambala. I was in the process of clearing out from one unit and moving to the other. I was to move to my new unit in a day or two. I had some paper work to attend to. It was late in the afternoon. The flight offices were closed. We were then operating off the Green Fields dispersal off tented accommodation. A couple of gangs were working in the technical area. I was in the Adjutant’s tent. The afternoon was busy for me as it was lonely at the same time. My work was suddenly interrupted by some commotion and the sound of people running. I put my files aside and came out of my tent to inquire what the matter was.

The scene that greeted me was quite confusing. There was some commotion around a Hunter aircraft parked outside a blast pen for last flight servicing. A young airman was hanging along the fuselage next to the cockpit ladder. His head was inside the cockpit, his hands were hanging by his side, and his feet were off the ladder. It seemed that the canopy had closed on his neck and he had passed out through suffocation. One airman was supporting his legs to prevent his neck from snapping. One sergeant of armament trade came running to disconnect the canopy from outside. As I looked on, the young technician was brought down. He was unconscious as he lay on a canopy cover spread on the ground as his emergency bed. I ran back to the adjutant’s tent to arrange medical support. At that part of the evening, the fire-rescue-ambulance support were not on an alert state. Flying had stopped some time earlier; every one was on ‘stand easy’. To get an ambulance to reach the spot took some time, and every second of that wait seemed like an eternity.

We ultimately reached the military hospital. Doctors took charge of the situation. The young airman was saved.

Unnoticed through this turmoil, one airman knelt next to the unconscious body of the stricken airman and continuously gave him artificial respiration. He performed this task continuously for about forty five minutes. This lad was not medically trained. He just happened to be around the spot of the incident as an electrician on duty. He had just been a Boy Scout in his school days and had been instructed on emergency help for respiratory problems. But for his dedicated intervention, the technician caught by the canopy would not have survived.

I left the unit a few days later. Ajit (Peter) Rawley took over the duties of being the Adjutant to Battle Axe One from me. About a week later, I asked Peter about the welfare of the stricken airman and about some Service Recognition for the lad whohad kept his friend alive. I was happy to learn that the technician was doing well. He had been discharged from the hospital. He was given some leave and he had gone home with his father who had come to take him home. I was also happy to learn that the young man who had provided respiratory support had been recommended for a Vayu Sena Medal. The sad part of the story is that this recommendation was reduced to a CAS’s commendation by the Command HQ and was further diluted to a letter of appreciation of the station commander by the Air HQ.

I have forgotten the name of this airman. Even his face is now obscure in my memory. I however remember the incident and I hold that man in high respect for his dedicated support to his comrade.

 

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Jostling with Ethics -8- : Dancing Down the Street

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Ethics is a very personal matter. After all, it is one’s own perception of right and wrong. While these perceptions are not immutable over time, changes to one’s perception of ethics need to spring internally. Any force or inducement to alter one’s ethics is normally resented. And yet, in a structured group like the Army/Navy/Air Force, the Commanding Officer is charged with the task of ensuring that individual ethics of the personnel under his command resonate with the group ethics of the Fauj. No one chronicles a list of what a fauji ethics aught to be. For the officers, it is just covered with a vague label ‘Officer Like Qualities’ or OLQ. The CO thus has the unenviable task of monitoring, strengthening, and often time modifying the ethical standards of the men under his command without ever appearing to be an interfering SOB. When I was a CO, I found this task very challenging. I often had to create a situation of a moral dilemma in the minds of selected officers and then force them to take an ethical stand without compromising with the task at hand. My story today is about one such incident.

Batra was my Signals Officer. Young, smart and reliable. He joined me at Chandigarh when I converted the Black Archers on to MiG 21 Type 77, and he moved with the squadron a year later from there to Hindon. Soon after our arrival at Hindon, Batra announce that a marriage has been arranged for him. The date for the event was fixed. The venue for the event was in North Delhi, not far from Hindon. I proposed that the Archers will attend the marriage function enmass. One of the officers was made in charge of administration. A bus was to be hired for the journey. Every one was excited.h

On inquiry it transpired that for the selected date of marriage, hiring charges for a bus was very high. The cost for the journey, even a 1/20 share of it, was steep. It seemed that my plan for leading a big Baraat for the marriage would fizzle out.We needed new ideas, and my boys were keen to solve the problem. A scouting party reported that a road under construction from near our base was now useable. The road could take us to a newly built bridge over the river Yamuna reducing our distance to our destination by about half. Would it now be within 20 kilometers from the base? We did not really know. That piece of information was important because it would then become possible for us to hire a service motor coach at subsidized rates for the journey. Such amenity run was permissible only up to a distance of 20 km. Another scouting party went out to actually measure the distance to our destination only to return crestfallen; the distance for the round trip was 43 km. These three additional kilometers made the trip untenable as an authorized . The matter came to me for a decision. It gave me a chance to initiate a nice debate on ethics.

I gathered all the boys and spelt out the dilemma. Technically the venue for the marriage was too far, albeit marginally. To use amenity transport we either had to walk the last kilometer and half or ask the MT driver to under log the distance by three kilometers. To get all the young girls in their finery to trudge one and a half dusty kilometers was not a welcome proposition. At the same time, knowingly ordering a subordinate, in this case the MT Driver, to resort to falsehood went against the grain. Hiring a civil transport was too expensive. I wanted my boys to consider the problem and advise me on a course of action. It did not take them long to figure out a solution.
As one of my smart officers propounded, there was really no problem. It was a Punjabi Marriage. Traditionally, the Baraat must arrive at the bride’s place with the groom on a horse-back accompanied by music and dancing. We would park the amenity transport at the 20th kilometer, ask the appointed Ghodi-walla to position the mare at that spot, we shall carry a couple of Dholaks, Cymbals and other musical instruments, and we would then sing and dance as the Baraat and reach the marriage venue.

The Baraat for Batra was noisy and boisterous. The Black Archers enjoyed themselves quite thoroughly. No ethical transgression took place.

Jostling With Ethics -6- : For Common Good

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A paradigm of our social norm aims for universal ‘good’. Sarva Jana Hitaya,cha our scriptures advocate, and also Sarva Jana Sukhaya Cha. Surely that seems to be a good goal to strive for. Unfortunately, both these words – hita (benefit) and sukha (happiness) – are subjective concepts. Benefit for an individual can often mean the opposite for a group that the individual belongs to. Choice of actions for an individual in such situations of conflict becomes a matter of personal ethics. Read the rest of this entry

A Long and Arduous Path

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Some time, in our humdrum daily life, we chance upon opportunities of doing some things of utmost importance without really being prepared for it. Some times the opportunity fructifies and you are able to achieve something memorable and valuable. At some other times, you either do not recognize the opportunity and let it slip by or are unable to take up the challenge for various reasons. On some other times, you get a chance and try your best, but your best turns out to be not good enough. The opportunity dies. These occasions leave a scar on your soul that do not heal with time. My tale today is of such a chance that I could not grab and see through. Read the rest of this entry

And Pirthi Needs a Tooth Brush

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We, the men (and now a days also some women) in uniform live in a strange world. While we are tightly bound by rules and regulations, we are also expected to be innovative creative spontaneous decision makers in the face of unpredictable odds at all times. This dichotomy, between the need to be rule bound and yet be spontaneous and decisive, often land us in situations that are either hilarious or at other times are quite irritating. Read the rest of this entry

Acting Like Santa

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The tale begins on a March morning in 1967. I had settled down as a member of the air staff in the Head Quarters of the Western Air Command. We were still operating from the Hutments that had housed the erstwhile Operational Command of the Air Force from the time it was formed in 1948. (That spot is now occupied by Terminal 1A of the IGI Airport.) I had a little cubical in that double storied temporary structure as the ‘Operations I’ of the WAC, a post that was filled by a Squadron Leader on those days. Read the rest of this entry

I Mourn for Karthigeyan

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Flight Lieutenant Kuke Suresh walked into my office with a grim face. Flight Lieutenant M S Vasudeva walked in just behind him. Kuke was my adjutant and Vasu was the Unit Flight Safety Officer. It was the 29th of September 1969 and I was Archer One. We were at Hindan. ‘There has been an accident in Chandigarh‘, they sang out in unison. Read the rest of this entry